The standoff is deepening between the education network and school boards, who refuse to renew their contract at the start of the school year unless Quebec increases its funding. At least one complaint had been filed with the Permanent Anti-Corruption Unit (UPAC), they learned The newspaper.
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According to our information, at least one school service center has filed a complaint in the past few days to “denounce restrictive business practices that could harm healthy competition”. Others are seriously considering doing so soon.
These school service centers have the impression that the transport companies are working together to artificially inflate the transport costs in the current context, it is explained.
In one case, they even spoke of “threats and intimidation” in connection with contract extensions or awards, it said protocol.
Contracts to be renewed
This year, more than 60% of student transport contracts expire at the end of June and have to be extended by several years.
School boards believe that the amounts provided by Quebec to school service centers are insufficient to offset the cost increases in their sector. Under these conditions, companies refuse to renew their contract.
If the impasse is not resolved, thousands of students could be deprived of school transport by the start of the school year, Le Journal reported in early June. In the school network, the fears are very real. “Right now I don’t see how we could get anywhere else in September,” says a source.
It is important to pay “a fair price” for school transport, otherwise the student service could suffer, it is also argued.
For its part, the Association of School Service Centers notes that Quebec has recently “significantly improved” its offer to school boards by providing an additional $40 million. The total amount related to yellow buses has now reached $835 million, up 25% from 2017-2018, according to the association.
“We believe the current conditions are favorable for reaching an agreement,” said President and Deputy CEO Dominique Robert. “Despite these new offers, we see that there is still an impasse and that some airlines are refusing to continue talks. These are elements of concern,” he adds.
At the Federation of School Carriers we recognize that government provision has improved. “But we are still a long way from the necessary reinvestment,” says President Luc Lafrance.
The $40 million increase seems high at first, but that sum needs to be split between 600 transport companies operating 8,000 buses, which is still very little, he argues.
The increase offered by Québec linked to cost indexation is 8% and not 25% because the overall framework includes amounts that Mr. Lafrance said do not go directly to the carriers.
However, the latter asserted that the providers had not been given a solution in connection with the negotiations taking place on site in the school network.
“I wouldn’t believe there was any questionable practice. Each company is free to submit its applications and sign off on the proposals or not, according to its needs,” he says.
For its part, the office of the Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, preferred not to comment on these files.